Virtually Possible – A New Frontier for Skills Training

Imagine walking up to a Porsche 911 and knowing exactly how to take apart and reassemble its engine – even if you’re not a mechanic, and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the car. Or operating an MRI machine to scan a patient. Or conducting a surgical procedure. Or checking an entire power plant for malfunctions. Think it’s something out of the realm of science fiction? Well, think again.

Virtual Reality can make every one of the above scenarios, and many more, possible to learn from anywhere in the world. It has long been agreed upon that the most reinforcing form of education is learning by doing. Its advantages over traditional educational methods such as text, pictures and videos are numerous, allowing dexterity and spatial awareness to supplement visual and audio cues. In fact, a recent research study at the Miami Children’s Hospital concluded that when using Virtual Reality based simulations, students remembered up to 80% of transmitted information. When compared to the modest 20% recall from traditional learning, the implications for not only education, but any sort of skills training, are staggering.

A talent shortage survey of over a thousand US employers revealed that 39% face difficulties in finding staff with the requisite skills for the job, and nearly half reported that such shortages adversely affected their ability to carry out their functions satisfactorily. Training is expensive, though, and there was no way to get around it. Until now.

Virtual Reality (VR) is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world is designed in such a way that users find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Augmented Reality (AR) is the blending of virtual reality and real life. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

A US navy study found that student pilots who used Microsoft Flight Simulator were 54% more likely to attain better scores in real life flights, as compared to students who did not use the game. The advent of VR in the workplace took place when simulated welding training using VR was widely adopted as far back as 2014. Now, there is little doubt anymore that VR/AR vastly speeds up the learning process, imparting vital skills faster and at lower cost.

An ever larger number of employers are turning to VR and AR to fill the employability skills gap, and early results all indicate that they are correct in doing so. VR/AR provides realistic environments for trainees to practice and hone their skills repeatedly before ever applying them to the real world where, as often happens, the costs and/or hazards encountered may be significant. High-risk and high-stress situations particularly benefit, as trainees gain greater liberty to make snap decisions without provoking unpleasant consequences if wrong. Safety-critical tasks such as emergency plant shutdowns are perfect examples of such scenarios, and trainees can repeat simulations as many times as necessary to gain the confidence to ensure that such processes minimize the endangerment to anyone involved. Not to mention significant time and cost savings to boot.

It’s a great time for the workforce to embrace VR to learn new skills, as well as to keep existing ones recurrent – positioning men and women at the forefront of industry, healthcare, education, and various other fields, to stay eminently employable and ready to supercharge their career graphs without a moment’s hesitation.

The Virtual Lap of Luxury

‘An estimated 40 percent of luxury brands still don’t sell online,’ says a recent report from Bain Consultants in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

Luxury retail – two words that together evoke images of high fashion, top models strutting on runways, sports cars and Italian marble. No pretenders to the business of high chic, luxury brands have understandably been late entrants to e-commerce and technologically enabled retail. Until now, there has always been the dogma of providing sensory stimulation through sight, touch and in-person experiences. There are exceptions to the rule, though. Burberry and Estee Lauder are, by now, veritable natives of the digital fashion world, and luxury megabrand Chanel has just ventured into e-commerce. But what about the others? With many tech savvy millennials now being prominent customers, elite labels are rethinking their cautious approach to online retailing. Dozens of luxury fashion brands are beginning to dip their toes into the waters of online sales, and v-commerce is their game changer.

V-commerce is a term describing the usage of virtual and augmented reality to enhance e-commerce. Customers are lapping it up and thirsting for more. Over a quarter of e-commerce shoppers have purchased a luxury item online in the past year. That’s rapid growth from 10% in 2015 and a measly 6% in 2014. One-third of those consumers were millennials in the age group of 18 to 25. Compare that to only 6% of purchasers who were 61 and older, and it’s clear where consumer desires are headed. To top it, 38% of all luxury e-commerce shoppers have indicated a desire to use VR to purchase luxury products. In a market that boasts 70% profit margins, that’s huge untapped potential for luxury brands.

VR is still considered an expensive indulgence by many so it’s not surprising that luxury shoppers have been found far more likely to use VR devices than the average customer. Two out of every five, to be precise. They’ve also rated the technology more likely to impact their purchase decisions. 2% of those that have bought luxury items online in the past year already own VR devices, and a whopping 28% intend to buy one this year.

But gimmicks are not going to cut it for these high-fashion brands. While AR/VR alone may boost sales in the short term, they need to strategically tie into overall brand experiences in the longer term. VR and AR are poised to become integral parts of such experiences – easing customers’ apprehensions about size and fit, and stimulating their imaginations with unique ways to test new products, see how they’re made, and engage virtually in memorable experiences like fashion shows. The greatest potential of virtual reality for luxury brands, though, is to increase business from those who don’t have the time, opportunity, or inclination, to visit a real world store.

We’ve written about how it all began and some of the major emerging trends that brands are adopting to improve how they interact with their customers. Such strategies are of paramount importance for luxury brands, and if used holistically, are capable of wooing new customers and delighting existing ones – effectively creating repeat purchase cycles that add tremendous value to both retailers and their customers.

The Fashion Retail Runway

The world of fashion and apparel retail is barreling towards change at a blistering pace. Disruptors in the industry range from wearables to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Virtual & Augmented Reality. There has never been a better time to be a consumer, and never a more trying time for companies to venture into the rapidly burgeoning world of fashion technology. Although there are products emerging every day that are trying to change the way we shop, most don’t understand what shoppers really want out of their shopping. Women don’t shop the way men do. Furniture buyers have completely different requirements than do apparel purchasers. So the big question is – how do we really shop today?

There are lots of reports available on the net. Some agree on what people want to buy and how. Others have viewpoints ranging from mundane, cautious predictions to wildly creative and highly improbable ideas. Despite the plethora of websites out there that are trying to sell old stuff in new packages, there are a few that are going above and beyond. True disruptors, to say the least. But for people to talk about a brand, they need to have memorable experiences worth sharing. So what are the underlying, fundamental shifts that are really redefining the fashion retail landscape, and won’t fizzle out like the housing and food tech bubbles?

One of the emerging trends in fashion today is pay-as-you-go retail. We’ve seen this business model with cell-service providers and e-wallets, but now for the first time fashion brands are adopting it. There are big bets being placed on shoppers who want to wear something different every day and don’t mind paying for single-use apparel. 15% of Americans and 17% of UK shoppers have indicated keen interest in renting apparel from their favorite stores. Unsurprisingly, millennials top this cut at 35% in USA and a whopping 46% in the UK expressing a desire to rent clothing.

Another trend warranting closer attention is lifestyle loyalty. Nike launched a vending machine in New York where consumers can trade sweat points from their Nike Fuelbands for merchandise. Lifestyle retail is the next step for brands to boost loyalty with their customers and keep them coming back for more, while at the same time rewarding them for improving their entire lifestyles. Big brands are placing bigger bets on becoming integral parts of their customers’ lives with this approach. Although the concept is neither new nor novel, technology is now enabling brands to connect with their shoppers like never before. Another trend similar to lifestyle-loyalty is classroom retail. Fashion brands encourage consumers to purchase from them with a range of value-added offerings that educate and improve the lives of their customers. Their approach to this is by imparting creative skills, personal style education, and behavioral tweaks to create happier, better informed, loyal customers.

The inside-out retail approach dabbles in the realm of the experiential, overloading consumers’ senses with visual, auditory, tactile and even olfactory stimuli. It has long been known that appealing to more senses positively impacts purchase behavior. Technology is an enabler in this space, allowing consumers to really ‘feel’ a brand’s personality.

Finally, the dragon slayer of the fashion retailing world – Enhanced Assistance – is here to change the way fashion retail works forevermore. Enhanced assistance is a loose term being used to describe a combination of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Using these technologies, reality and fantasy blend together seamlessly to create virtual shopping experiences that are far preferable to the traditional physical approach. The hard data agrees – only 39% of US shoppers and 36% of UK shoppers prefer human to virtual assistance when browsing in a store. VR and AR fitting rooms are already seeing rapid adoption, with demonstrated benefits to both consumers and retailers. With this tech, shoppers get recommendations, styling guides, social sharing and, most importantly, an in-store experience from the comfort of their homes. All while using only their smartphones and any of the simple, ubiquitous VR viewers available today. Retailers are boosting sales, and seeing fewer stock-outs, less disappointed customers, and far fewer product returns. We’ve already covered how it all began in a previous post which you can read here.

A new frontier for fashion is beginning – frontier-less retail – and these are only a few of the many, many emerging trends. It’s an exciting time. This is how we shop now. What’s going to be next?